Nurture Shock

This post is my contribution to the current PAIL Book Club selection, Nurture Shock. Click here to find out more!

When I first read the reviews on Amazon for Nurture Shock, I was immediately intrigued. I’m not much of a book reader when it comes to wanting parenting advice, but this book seemed different from the get-go, and now I’m stoked I spent the $10. Each chapter covers a different aspect of parenting and life in general – from talking about race, to relationships with siblings – and every single chapter had sections that made me really think about why we do (or DON’T do) the things we do. I’d say that’s a good thing, whether or not you agree with the concepts and ideas presented in the pages. I could write a dozen different posts in response to this book, so today I’ll try to just focus on one chapter that really intrigued me, and maybe I’ll write more in the future. 🙂

I’ll admit it, in Stella’s short life, I’ve said phrases like “great job!” and “you’re so smart!” more times than I could count, and I never thought much of it until I read this book. Then I started reading the first chapter, “The Inverse Power of Praise,” and one could consider my world rocked.

I was one of the smart kids. I mean, I am a smart person, but growing up, I was one of the smart kids. I used to think that was a huge benefit in my life, but through the years, I have time and time again been so damn afraid of failing that I haven’t even attempted multiple new experiences…and now I’m not so sure. I don’t specifically remember the lines of encouragement my parents used in my childhood, but I definitely always knew I was smart. I don’t think my issues were as extreme as some of the examples used in this book (I didn’t drop out of classes to avoid a bad grade, for example)… but by the time I hit college, I definitely tried to skirt around taking a class that might negatively affect my GPA. I didn’t do this because of the GPA, per se, but because I was afraid of not looking smart. *sigh*

That’s why the following quote really struck me:

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

Say what? Praise the effort, not the result?

That’s such a simple concept. But so hard to do. But it makes SENSE to me!

The book isn’t saying to never praise your child – rather that praise needs to be specific and genuine, and that you should focus more on praising the effort put forth by the child instead of the end result. Again, this makes SENSE to me.

Later on in the chapter, another “professional” who has studied this issue weighs in with this:

Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s accomplishments: it’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”

Phew. I could totally see that in myself. If my child is a successful human being, it’s partly because of the awesome parenting behind the child, right? Err… not? I hope to never force my dreams on my child, but I had never thought of  praise for my child possibly being a reflection of my own self esteem. Interesting. SO, to answer one of the book club discussion prompts:

What do you think of the concept of praising for effort instead of results? Do you think you can integrate this with your own parenting style? Do you believe it works/makes a difference?

I think this is an AWESOME concept. I think it will be incredibly hard to institute (since reading this book a few weeks ago, I have tried and tried to make a conscious effort to praise the effort, but WOW it is hard). However, I do want to attempt to follow this, because I do believe that it works, and I do believe that it will make a difference.

I want Stella to be proud of how hard she tried – and not be afraid of failing if she tries.
I want Stella to be inspired to try, try again – and feel exhilarated by challenge, not defeated.
I want Stella to be smart, and kind, and loving… but I don’t want it to go to her head.
I want the best for my child, because I’m her Mom, and because I love her.

Buy the book. Read it. I think you’ll love it!

(and in the meantime, check out other bloggers reviews here)


  1. I love this idea! Makes total sense to me. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention.

  2. OH This book! I haven’t finished it, which is why I didn’t participate per se, but after reading as much as I have and reading the posts on this…I’m loving that I spent the $$$ too. I read somewhere along the lines something about how so many baby girls are told how beautiful they are or how pretty they are over and over again. I don’t recall the study, but it emphasized how we should say things like “You’re so smart” to encourage our daughters to look beyond their beauty to get by in this world. This chapter sent me reeling..OMG how much damage have I done to my 11 month old child? Praising her when she does a good job and praising her efforts when she fails is how I always planned on doing things. That’s how my parents raised me. I was always praised when I did a good job, but there was always praise for a good effort. If I didn’t put in the effort and my parents knew it, I didn’t get that praise but got the “next time put forth the effort and good things will happen.” It’s been hard to reel in the “you’re so smart” because it was so hard for me to change to that, but I’ve been working on it. Now that Raegan is learning new skills every day, praising her efforts has become my focus. It’s so hard not to say “Good job! You’re so smart!” But I’m doing my best…and getting the hubs on board has been a bit of a challenge…hoping after he reads the book, he’ll get it!

    Thanks for this post!

    1. Yeah, i don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with telling your daughter that she’s beautiful – I say it to Stella for sure. You just need to make sure that it’s not the only thing you’re praising! Beauty + brains are great, but if you don’t have the confidence and drive to TRY things, the beauty and brains won’t get you far!

      1. I’ve also read that little girls are praised much more often for their beauty than their brains. I do it myself, which is odd to me when I think about it because I consider myself a feminist, but I WANT to tell her she’s beautiful!

      2. In the realm of interesting things, I heard a speaker address this topic not so long ago and that a more feminist approach to take is to ask a small girl (not yours, that’s trickier) about what her favorite book is or her favorite game rather than complimenting her dress. Then you can even have a conversation!

  3. This is a great breakdown of that chapter! I think the current generations are filled with kids growing up thinking they are SO special and SO great and can do no wrong, and sadly it often morphs into a sense of entitlement and fear to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. After a while of using the “praise effort” thing, I feel like it becomes more natural. We tend to use a lot of just “noticing” what the girls are doing… “Wow, you’re trying so hard!” and it’s starting to roll off the tongue now. But I can’t tell you how many slips of “good girl!” I still have too! 😉

  4. […] 4) Josey @ My Cheap Version of Therapy: Nurture Shock […]

  5. Oh, Josey – thanks for posting this. It couldn’t come at a better time.

    We are having a very relatable issue over in Sitting In A Tree land. Taylor is fully capable of walking. She has stood on her own for minutes at a time and even has taken steps a few times. But as of a few weeks ago, we’ve noticed a huge backslide in her progress. She’s scared of failing. Once she realizes she’s not holding on to anything, she falls and cries uncontrollably.

    She’ll walk (heck run) while holding our hands, but the minute we let go, she falls and screams.

    I know it’s a confidence thing and she is afraid to fail. And I know my praising the result vs the effort hasn’t affected her yet. But if this personality is already engrained in her, then I have to really be careful.

    Anyway, long comment short. This opened my eyes. I DEFINITELY feels like this applies to me and with my little peanut.

    Thank you.

    1. This comment makes me so happy!! (I mean, not happy that Tay is afraid of falling, but happy that the post came at the right time for you.)

  6. mcmissis · · Reply

    I’ve read about this idea a few times before and try to remember it as often as I can. It just seems so unnatural sometimes. But I deserve some praise for trying, right 😉

  7. While I have’t read the book (but adding it to reading list), I understand this concept and the “controversial” aspect of it. i can’t wait to see how it will work when I parent, but reflecting on my childhood, I’m trying to think how my parents addressed it.. I was also the “smart” one but I don’t think they put any pressure on me that I didn’t put on myself. I do relate to the “not trying for fear of failing” concept, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize if you don’t TRY you won’t get the results you want!

    1. My parents totally did NOT put pressure on me (that I remember). I just think that in the past 30 yrs, we have gotten more and more “pro-praise” which has led to a decline in the reality of the tough situations we will all face in a variety of life situations (and hence, a decline in our ability to handle those situations).

  8. A lot of stuff from the book has been run in media outlets, and this was one if those things. It made sense to me, so I’ve been trying all along, but damn is it hard sometimes. It’s so easy to say, “You’re so smart!”

  9. Great post! I know you’re being a great mom to Stella and have the best wishes for her.

  10. This chapter pointed out something that is so critical, so obvious, that it is amazing that it sits just below the surface for so many parents. When we see our kids do something amazing, we are AMAZED. And “Good job” etc. just pops out in that moment. It’s the “because…” that we forget! (I have a lot of thoughts on using the word ‘good’ but I’ll point you to the Kohn article that Jules linked to – it’s a thinker!). I have mentioned elsewhere that what I took from this chapter is to be mindful of what you are saying, and to say what you mean. Today I watched HGB take one of my yoga blocks over to an armchair and use it as a step. I was amazed and “DUDE! AWESOME!” came out, and then I remembered to add “You just used that block as a step. You solved an important problem.” Who knows how much he understood, but he looked quite pleased with himself. This reading (and the article Jules mentioned) has also got me saying “Keep trying, you are doing xyz, almost there!” rather than giving into his frustration. And it is *really* paying off!

    I guess, in essence, I want HGB to know that he is smart, and sweet, and kind, and special. But I want him to know *why*, if that makes sense. I used to have a poster in my classroom that said “Remember that you are unique – just like everybody else.” The teenagers could see the tongue-in-cheek of this, but little kids wouldn’t. They need to know why. 🙂

  11. I’ve got the Kohn article SRB mentioned here: It’s a good one!

    I don’t overall find it terribly hard to avoid “good job!” because even when I say it without thinking first, I follow it up with “you worked really hard on that” or “you did it!” or the like. Luckily, I’m not accustomed to saying “Good girl!”, which for some reason really bothers me to say (I guess it feels like praising a dog, or training a girl to be a “good girl” and do as she’s told, or something). BUT… I have a terribly hard time not telling my girls they are beautiful and amazing and wonderful ALL DAY LONG. And it’s like SRB said: our kids ARE amazing. I mean, how can you look at their little faces and not want to just snorgle them all day long? I basically just go with it and do it, and it includes a lot of “you’re the best baby in the world!”, etc. Especially with girls, I worry sometimes that I’m focusing a lot on appearance as well– “you’re so cute!”, “my beautiful girl,” etc. I mean, I really don’t want to stop saying these things, either. I want my girls to feel loved and hear that they are loved and to know that I think they are the best things since sliced bread. I just don’t want to set them up for failure, and do you know how hard it is not to say these things? Try having a minute-long conversation with a 4-year-old girl you’ve never met and not complimenting her on her dress, shoes, physical appearance, or some other stereotypical girl-thing that we can’t seem to stop gravitating towards. “Hi there, Becky, nice to meet you! What a lovely–… I mean, I like your–… uh… do you like horses?”

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